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Mariners too much for Rays 8-4

Tampa Bay stays close early but loses 3rd in row on West Coast.

By MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 2, 2001


SEATTLE -- Having completed the worst month in their short but sad history, the Rays were more than happy to turn the calendar to June.

Turning around their season is another matter.

The Rays played a relatively good game against baseball's best team Friday, but they weren't close to good enough, losing 8-4 to the Mariners on a chilly night at Safeco Field.

There were positive developments for the Rays, who are 15-39. Bryan Rekar pitched seven innings, more than the combined efforts of Albie Lopez and Paul Wilson the two previous days. They held Seattle rookie Ichiro Suzuki hitless until the ninth. And after losing two to Oakland by a combined 25-3, they kept this game close until nearly the end, giving up a pair of sloppy runs in the eighth.

But the differences between the teams were obvious, and obviously too much for the Rays to overcome. Each mistake the Rays made -- on the mound, on the bases, in the field -- proved costly, each missed opportunity painful.

"We were in the game and alive but we came up short," Rays manager Hal McRae said. "We're just not scoring enough runs and that's it in a nutshell."

The Mariners flexed the muscle of the league's top scoring offense, with the middle-of-the-order trio of Edgar Martinez, John Olerud and Bret Boone driving in the first six runs.

And when the Rays knocked out Seattle starter Jamie Moyer in the sixth to close within 5-4 on Fred McGriff's homer, the Mariners unleashed their overpowering bullpen, with Jose Paniagua, Arthur Rhodes and Jeff Nelson, and allowing just one hit the rest of the way.

The Mariners have won nine in a row and 18 of 21, and their 41-12 record is the best start to a season since the 1955 Dodgers and matches the sixth-best 53-game mark in history.

Rekar, who came into the game with the lowest run support (2.60 per nine innings) of any AL starter, worked seven inning for the third game in a row. But he did himself in as three of the five Mariners he walked came around to score. He fell to 0-7.

"He's probably the best 0-7 pitcher in baseball and I think everyone knows it," McRae said. "No secret, he's pitched well."

As most teams do, the Mariners took an early lead on the Rays. Rekar walked two of the first four batters -- Mark McLemore with one out and Olerud with two -- and Boone, who has 22 RBI in his past 19 games, made him pay with a two-run double.

Hitless through four innings against Moyer, the Rays pulled even in an entertaining and error-filled fifth.

The first mistake was made by second base umpire Scott Higgins, who may have been the only person in the park who didn't think McLemore made a spectacular running catch by snagging Russ Johnson's liner a few inches above the grass.

Given a rare break with Johnson at second, the Rays naturally made the worst of it, with Gerald Williams popping up a bunt attempt. But Mike DiFelice followed with a bloop single into left, Moyer lent a hand by walking No. 9 batter Andy Sheets to load the bases and Randy Winn, continuing his sizzling hitting, tied it with a hard single to left.

The Rays had a chance, with men on first and second and one out, to go ahead, but ran themselves out of it. Both runners were moving on the first pitch and when Damian Rolls lined hard to center, Sheets was easily doubled off.

The Mariners took another lead in the fifth, scoring three more runs off Rekar. Martinez had the big hit, a two-run double, and Boone had a run-scoring single.

The Rays cut the score to 5-4, Ben Grieve drawing a walk to open the sixth and McGriff blasting a 3-and-2 pitch high over the fence and just inside the foul pole. It was McGriff's first homer in a 39 at-bat span, and the 426th of his career, tying Billy Williams for 27th place all-time.

Seattle added an important insurance run in the seventh when Martinez singled and Olerud double to right-center.

The Mariners tacked on two more when the Rays got careless with two outs in the eighth. Dan Wilson started the rally with a line drive to left that bounced off Grieve's glove for a double.

Suzuki, with hits in 49 of Seattle's 53 games, singled hard to left, Wilson scoring in front of John Flaherty. Suzuki, who took second on the throw, stole third and scored when Flaherty's throw bounced away from Aubrey Huff.

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